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Brussels bike thieves face €250 on the spot fines

Will the model work – and could it be adopted elsewhere, including the UK?

Bike thieves in the Belgian capital Brussels will now face on the spot fines of €250 if caught – which raises the question of whether, if it succeeds, that model could be adopted elsewhere, including the UK.

As with many other cities across the world, bike theft in Brussels has escalated in recent years – a problem exacerbated in the past year and a half or so by demand for bikes outstripping supply during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Brussels Times reports that police in the city will, from 1 January, be responding by issuing spot fines of €250 to offenders – in part because the authorities want to give the impression that “small” crimes do not go unpunished.

It quotes data from the office of Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne which found that across the country, on average 230 bicycles are stolen each day – and that in the Brussels- Capital region, 4,474 bikes were reported stolen last year.

As elsewhere, the number of reported thefts underestimates the true scale of the problem – two in three in Belgium not being notified to police at all, says the Brussels Times, in part because victims have no faith in their bike being recovered, let alone the criminals being brought to justice.

So, on-the-spot fines are designed in part to provide a quick and efficient way for law enforcement officials to punish offenders, as well as deterring bike thefts from happening in the first place.

The best we can say, is good luck with that; it may deter opportunistic bike thieves, but the truth is that many of those we see coming before the courts in the UK either form part of organised gangs for whom stealing bikes is a major (and lucrative) source of income, or else are looking for a relatively easy way to make some quick money.

To expand on that, we’ve reported on a number of stories recently here on road.cc in which habitual bike thieves in the UK have been sentenced to prison – or, in some cases, escaped incarceration altogether.

In many of these cases, the offender is a drug user, and steals bikes to feed their addiction – at a guess, selling bikes on to a middleman for a fraction of their second-hand value simply to raise cash to feed their addiction.

Now, it’s true that the Brussels Times adds that according to Belgian authorities, organised gangs and repeat offenders – such as those we have outlined above – will be pursued through the courts.

The question has to be asked, though – how many bike thieves does that leave?

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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